Forty years ago the Beach Boys sang, “be true to your school.” As Christians, God would ask us to sing, “be true to the Kingdom of God.” While our time in college is brief, the Kingdom of God is everlasting.
It is in college that we amass knowledge about life and who we are; in this respect, the love for our campus can teach us much about love for God’s Kingdom. But the values we learn at school seem shallow compared with the deep truths that Jesus wants us to know about the Kingdom of God.
St. Olaf, where I went to school, prides itself on having a thriving campus community. During the first week of school, the freshmen are taught the school song, a rallying cheer that we’d all sing together at every school function.
When we belted out “Um Ya Ya” (that’s pronounced oom-yaw-yaw) and pumped our fists in the air, it made us feel unified and reminded us of our school spirit and the common ground we stood on. Many campuses have similar rituals that build community – if not a school song, than a sports team, or music group.
Unity in the Kingdom of God
Similarly, Jesus is the unifier of the Kingdom of God; like a school song building community among the student body, the coming of Jesus brought redemption between God and us. As believers we are unified by the grace we have all received. And Jesus instructs us that we need a community of believers around us for our faith to find complete expression.
Accepted through Grace
But the good ideal of community found at college comes with a dark side. Not everyone can find a place in college, not everyone comes away feeling accepted; and occasionally, students must meet certain standards to be welcomed into community.
Being accepted by God into His Kingdom comes without our self-made conditions; we can do nothing to make ourselves worthy of God’s love and acceptance. Through his grace, Jesus extends his hands in welcoming us into the Kingdom, and all he asks us to do is clasp his hands in return.
Finding Common Ground
We also find common ground with our peers in the learning environment that permeates the campus. College teaches us to think, to pursue knowledge and truth so that when we leave, we will enter the world as productive members of society. While in school, some students may deny that they appreciate the atmosphere of learning, but the fact remains that it defines our college experience and who we are while we’re there – we go to college to learn.
But the truth and knowledge put forth by professors sometimes takes us on a detour away from God’s truth. Everything true in the world falls under God’s reign, but that’s not always what we are taught in school.
The Kingdom of God teaches us to seek knowledge and truth. Jesus came to earth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand, that he came as the truth and light of the world. Jesus is the truth; when we know him, we know truth. And when we pursue the Kingdom of God, as Jesus asks us to do, it means going out into the world to preach the same as he did. Jesus wants us to use our gifts, our minds, and the knowledge we have amassed, to bring more people into his Kingdom.
Following in Christ’s Footsteps
With knowledge also comes the formation of self. I have heard it said that it takes about a month for every year you lived at home in order to really become independent. That may be true, or it may not, but in college many people discover who they are and what they believe about themselves, the world, and life.
Instead of being defined and shaped by our teachers and peers, the Kingdom of God teaches us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It is in Jesus’ refining fire, not in classrooms, that we are molded into who we should be; it is in the Kingdom of God that we truly discover who we are.
While the Kingdom of God brings restoration between God and humanity, as well as God and the earth, our college campuses are fallen places. Of course, most colleges encourage the pursuit of good in the world – but many people stray away from their faith because of the secular humanist ideals of the university. These ideals preach that apart from any kind of deity, people are basically good; and that knowledge, truth, and goodness can and should be pursued apart from God.
College can be a time of selfish pursuit, whereas the Kingdom of God calls us to be outwardly focused at all times – to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ and others. As we weave our way through college, trying to figure out our place in the world, we often get stuck in the mires of our own dreams and goals. Not to say that students never think about others – college students, for example, champion human rights issues more than many other groups of people. But God asks that we put him ahead of our schooling and ambitions, listening attentively for what he wants for our lives.
People love their time in college for good reason – there they find community, they learn, they discover who they are. Those things embody Kingdom values. But while learning and self-discovery are good, they are not themselves the Kingdom of God.
Jesus preached the good news that he came to the world to heal our relationship with God, and that he will come again to complete the work that he started. It is that message that we are asked to remember, it is that message that lasts. In the lyrics, “be true to the Kingdom of God,” taken and reformed from the Beach Boys, we are reminded where our hearts really lie on this earth.